Future Tense Newsletter: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the opening keynote introducing new Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram privacy features at the Facebook F8 Conference at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California on April 30, 2019. - Got a crush on another Facebook user? The social network will help you connect, as part of a revamp unveiled Tuesday that aims to foster real-world relationships and make the platform a more intimate place for small groups of friends.
Mark Zuckerberg
Amy Osborne/Getty Images

Greetings, Future Tensers,

In a recent New York Times op-ed, one of Facebook’s co-founders, Chris Hughes, added his voice to the growing chorus calling for the breakup of the social media giant. While others who have made similar calls often cite its poor privacy practices and invasive levels of data collection, Hughes, who left Facebook in 2007, largely focused his appeal on the idea that his former college roommate has way too much power over online speech. Between Facebook’s namesake platform and its ownership of Instagram and WhatsApp, the decisions about what 2 billion people can and can’t say on the platforms essentially fall under the purview of one Mark Zuckerberg. But, as Evelyn Douek counters, simply breaking up Facebook likely wouldn’t fix free speech problems on any of the resulting smaller platforms. She explains why she’s unconvinced that competition and market-based accountability alone will do much to address the many underlying problems with its practices.

Elsewhere this week, Future Tense has also been exploring other big debates in big tech. Andreas Vogel and Nicholas Wright expose the inherent conflict of interest in the way that Amazon’s Alexa plays both constant companion and sales robot. Dan Gillmor explains a powerful change Google announced for its Android devices. And Kate Klonick writes about why Facebook’s announcement that it will be raising wages and giving more support to its contract content moderators is such a big deal—and the researcher we have to thank for it.

Other things we read between trying to figure out where to get rid of the things that didn’t spark joy:

Back doors: In just three days, Intel, Cisco, and WhatsApp all announced major security flaws in their products. Aaron Mak gives us the alarming rundown.

Dirty war: The author of World War Z writes about his worries about the looming threat of biological warfare and bioterrorism.

Package-free: Jane C. Hu explores a new crop of package-free products and who they’re actually for.

WikiLeaks: Stephen Harrison explains how WikiLeaks false use of the Wiki- prefix has hurt the free encyclopedia’s brand.

Cryptoschemes: Nir Kshetri explores how criminals are using new technology—and some classic tactics—to pull off a new generation of cryptocurrency scams.

Black death: Yes, you can still get the plague. Shannon Palus explains how one couple recently died of it and why you should avoid raw marmot kidney.


The original Jurassic Park did something few other movies have managed to do: It delivered the entertaining drama of dinosaurs wreaking havoc while giving viewers new ways to think about ethics in science. Join Future Tense on Wednesday, May 22, in Washington, D.C., for a screening of the 1993 sci-fi classic and a brief discussion on the ways it helped inform—and misinform—the public imagination. We’ll be joined by the president of the National Academy of Sciences, Marcia McNutt, and Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes. RSVP here.

To watching teens fail at rotary phones,

Anthony Nguyen

For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.